You cannot overedit, whatever anyone says. I dare say I’ve never read a book without finding a mistake, but when I see one in my own work, there’s nothing that can make me feel good about it.
I cannot submit my work to an editor without reading it aloud. In fact, before any novel manuscript goes to the publisher, it has been read aloud at least three times. Then, when the manuscript is returned from the publisher for some level of review, I read it aloud again.
It doesn’t have to be tedious, we make it fun around my house: the task gives us a reason to eat, drink, and smoke a cigar on my back porch, which overlooks a lake. Sometimes when my husband is feeling like it’s time for a bourbon, he’ll swing by my study and ask, “Got anything to read?”
And still, a copyeditor will find things wrong with a submission — every single time. And recently, while I was reading my book, Echoes of Edisto, into the Talking Book Services at the South Carolina State Library, I found errors. Little things I should have caught, things a proofer, an editor, and a copyeditor should have caught. Those tiny mistakes slid past so many eyes, and it frustrates the crap out of me.
Why do these things happen? Because editing is human, pure and simple. No computer program can completely edit a manuscript.
Thanks to the technology of today, any author or publisher can go back and upload a corrected copy of a manuscript, but you cannot undo the first impression of a mistake to a reader. I dare say I’ve never read a book without finding a mistake, but when I see them in my work, there’s nothing I can do to make me feel good about it.
So, when you are editing, read your work aloud, the more times the better (within reason). Have someone read it to you. Let other eyes read it. You can even use an app or program that reads aloud to you while you follow along. Try ReadAloud or NaturalReader or go to this post on Quora.com, where they’ve rated 10 programs for you.
You cannot overedit, regardless what anybody says. Put the manuscript away and read it after time has lapsed — weeks or a couple of months — when your brain no longer remembers how you wrote it. At the same time, send it to your beta readers, the group of folks you trust to read it and dissect it properly.
You want your work to be error-free and pristine, but the occasional mistake will arise. Most editors will forgive one mistake in a short piece — maybe two — and a publisher will forgive one error for every 10,000 words. But when a submitted piece has an error every 500 words … chances are you won’t hear from them again.
There are a million ways to edit your work. Embrace them all.
How to Revise Your Novel through a Read Aloud and Critique Workshop
A “Fresh Eyes” Reader Can Save Manuscript Errors
9 Ways an Editing Tool Helps You Polish Your Manuscript
Humans vs. Robots: When (And Why) You Should Use Editing Tools
Do Unto Other Authors: Review A Book
How to speak your book into existence
Improve Your Writing: Become a Demanding Self-Editor